Hospitalised with COVID-19

In this commentary Sue Ansarie describes the impact of COVID-19 in her neighbourhood and on her family and describes her experience of being hospitalised with severe COVID. She is a co-journalist with the COVID-19 Other Front Line Global Alliance. She supports two of the Alliance’s street journalists who live in economically disadvantaged areas in England. Their neighbourhoods are involved in the Big Local programme – a large community-led empowerment programme implemented in 150 areas across England. Sue also lives in a Big Local area and works in the research team at Local Trust which supports the Big Local programme.

I live in an apartment called a maisonette in England on a 1960’s public housing estate. My block has rows of upper and lower maisonettes and so tenants live side by side in close proximity. My next-door neighbour lost her cousin to Covid-19 just before Christmas 2020. He was age 53, a husband and father of four girls. On boxing day another neighbour lost her daughter, in her 40’s, to Covid-19 and then sadly tried to take her own life. Whilst in hospital for attempted suicide this neighbour was diagnosed with Covid and sadly passed away. Our neighbours’ Facebook messenger group notified my mobile phone with messages, one said, “there’s an ambulance pulled up, wonder who it is this time?” Eventually it was me! Here is my story on being treated in hospital for COVID-19, England, early January 2021.

Christmas 2020 and I felt increasingly unwell. I woke up with a terrible headache, could not taste or smell, was dizzy and in bed all day except to use the toilet. By the third day my temperature spiked, chest ached and I had a hacking cough. My husband followed a similar set of symptoms. Christmas Eve we both tested positive for the coronavirus at a nearby test centre, we had booked online. Our two children appeared well and so they were not tested.

New Year, my husband’s infection worsened, and he was shivering. I had managed to find an old baby thermometer and his reading was extremely high, over 39C. I pulled the covers off him, opened all the windows to cool him and gave him paracetamol. I called the national helpline 111 and an ambulance arrived, paramedics placed him on oxygen and rushed him to hospital. The next evening the doctor called me on WhatsApp to say the next days were crucial. I was fraught with worry but struggled to think clearly. I was functioning on what I call ‘automatic pilot,’ trying to keep the home running. I feared for my husband’s health and for his job, as it was zero hours[1] and did not provide sickness cover.

3rd of January, I called 111 and was sent to Accident and Emergency, where my oxygen levels were ‘dangerously low’. I called my friend and neighbour for support at home with the children. I was moved to a bed surrounded by other patients breathing hard and I breathed with Oxygen through a face mask. A cannular tube was inserted into my arm and I was hooked up to a drip, given an injection and oral medications and hooked up to a monitor on my finger and through a blood pressure cuff on my upper arm. It was a whirlwind of fear, nervousness, sickness, and different noises of other sick people, beeping machines, activities, nurses, and doctors darting in and around to do what they could.

That night I was moved to an acute ward set up for people sick with COVID-19. I overheard that I had got the ‘last bed’ in the hospital. Now there were ambulances parked up with sick patients waiting for beds to become available. I was in a mixed ward and I saw a young Asian man in the bed opposite and in another bed was a 29-year-old lady, heavily pregnant. Later two young Polish men were placed in the bay, both looked fit and muscular, both breathing hard and extremely sick with COVID-19. I was angry at the media representation of the coronavirus being more of an ‘old age’ disease when I was surrounded by quite young or middle age patients, otherwise fit and healthy. One of my brothers texted me and asked if the hospital was full because he had seen posts on social media saying that beds were empty. Furious that he was gullible to fake news, I wanted to message him back “F*** **” but I replied it was full and the story was untrue. I managed to contact my friend and neighbour by mobile phone, to find out how the kids are and ask for a bag of toiletries, underwear, clothes and my phone charger and earphones. I was so thankful to have a neighbour that I am friends with who I trust that can help me. I was also lucky to have my mobile phone with a data plan if I needed it.

January 5th the doctor said that my blood test results were not good. If I got worse, I would have to go in the prone position. I knew this was serious. I wept quietly in the bed. In my mind I saw my kids and my heart ached, of how they would live on without me and what if my husband (their father) also faced death. I prayed for God to help me and help my family, that I would live and not die yet. My tears continued as I released feelings of fear and heart ache.

The following day I had a scan and the doctor and nurse asked if I wanted to see the scan. I said that I would. I walked slowly into the side room and sat in front of the computer screen. I saw like an animation and the doctor said healthy lungs would show as two black circles moving down. However, I saw lots of white dots raining and bouncing and it looked like a snow blizzard. To my surprise the doctor said that these white dots were the COVID-19 infection and that both my lungs were very full and I had been incredibly lucky. I was shocked, really shocked, curious, bewildered.

After more than a week in hospital I was discharged with a huge bag of medicines. My husband had also been discharged home. It was very cold, snowing and I walked very slowly, still weakened and finding my breathe. I saw my front door and turned the key. I had made it, made it home. But so many, like my neighbours, so many had not made that journey home.

[1] A causal employment contract when the employer is not obliged to provide any minimum working hours